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Scott greenlights visitation at Vt. long-term care facilities, nursing homes

(WCAX)
Published: Jun. 17, 2020 at 5:03 AM EDT
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Visitation is set to start for more than 3,000 residents of long-term care facilities in Vermont who have been quarantined since March.

Here are the rules:

-Residents can have two visitors, once per day.

-Visits will be outside.

-There will be health screenings to make sure no one is sick.

-Everyone has to wear masks and keep their distance.

The Scott administration says closing facilities to family was one of the hardest decisions they made. And they say if those facilities can establish new protocols in time, they can allow visits on Father's Day which is this Sunday.

Our Cat Viglienzoni spoke with seniors and families.

No question that residents at places like the Gary Residence in Montpelier are eager to see visitors in person again. They're still figuring out how to make it happen.

While they have been under restrictions since COVID-19 hit, senior independent living facilities have not been and have already been able to develop their own visitor policies. So I went to one in Williamstown to see what's working for them.

"It was very difficult. I have family who lives close by. I have grandchildren I haven't seen-- so it's been difficult," Beverley Wilmott said.

Wilmott, 95, has been living at the Gardens in Williamstown for two years. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March, the independent senior living facility closed its doors to visitors. In May, they started them back up again. While she can see her family outdoors, there's one thing she still can't do that she wants.

"Give them a hug," Wilmott said.

"It's getting old," said Mary Norman, the director of the Gardens.

Norman says their 58 residents needed those family connections to stay healthy, especially while they could only leave for medical appointments.

"We were noticing a lot of-- and still are-- behavioral issues. More confusion with our residents," she said.

And family members were starting to drop by unannounced. So they've been doing scheduled visits. No more than four people for 45 minutes only in a designated visitation patio outside. No contact. Frequent sanitation. Visitors fill out a COVID-19 questionnaire and have their temperature taken.

She says what's been most helpful is having staffers there to make sure people don't forget the rules because the virus threat is still real.

"This has gone on a long time and who knows how much longer it's going to go on," Norman said.

Not every family is happy about the restrictions on entering and leaving the Gardens.

"I'd like them to at least be able to come and go a little bit," said Robin Copping of East Montpelier.

Copping's parents are in their 80s but still active. She told me they're frustrated that they can't go out and run small errands.

"It's a risk you kind of have to take at some point," Copping said. "What if you still have cases come September? What if you have cases come November or December? Are you never going to let these folks out to do anything?"

Wednesday's guidance also included senior centers. We learned those are allowed to reopen with protocols for keeping visitors safe. And the health department advised seniors to talk with their doctors about what's safe for them to be doing.

NEW HAMPSHIRE VISITS SET TO START SOON

New Hampshire also has new guidelines for long-term care facilities.

The visits need to take place outside with no more than two family members. Guests must also be at least 12 years old. Residents and visitors must remain at least six feet apart and wear face-coverings. The visits will be monitored by staff.

Employees say it's a big step forward during a difficult time for seniors.

"It will be a big boost for these residents. It will give them something to look forward to. You know, they get to have their time with their loved ones and enjoy those visits. So, I think it will be really good for them," said Melisssa Suckling of Wheelock Terrace.

Each facility is required to submit its own individualized visitation plans to the state. The visits could begin as early as this weekend.

BUT WHAT ABOUT INDEPENDENT SENIOR LIVING FACILITIES?

While long term care facilities figure out how they want to move forward with in-person visits, they could take notes from others who've already had to put policies in place.

We visited the gardens in Williamstown which is an independent senior living facility.

They do not fall under the same guidelines as long-term care and have been allowing limiting visitation since Mother's Day.

That's meant scheduled outdoor visits for 45 minutes: no contact, masks, and staff there to make sure people don't forget the safety protocols.

Residents told us they're glad to be able to see family again.

In addition to other safety protocols like sanitation, visitors also have to fill out COVID-19 questionnaires and go through temperature checks.

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